I am a big fan of education-based marketing. It just makes sense. In the contemporary world of clutter, the only way to stick out from the noise is to lend a helping hand.
However, even at the doorstep of 2021 (as of this writing), many companies still push the traditional marketing approach. Walking the extra mile always seems somewhat challenging.
Hence I grow quite curious when I find exceptional examples, and Avvoka’s Academy is undoubtedly one. The ladies and gents at Avvoka are doing their best to accustom their community members to 101s of legal documents and process automation.
Given that I use RPA in my daily work, I can only reaffirm and laud their efforts. Hence, I reached them to hear their story. Voila - you get to read it as well.
Q: What’s Avvoka’s backstory? What prompted you to start the whole journey with legal tech entrepreneurship?
David Howorth: Eliot and I started Avvoka back in 2015. As former city solicitors, we aim(ed) to help bring efficiency and transparency to the contracting process.
Our early work at Linklaters and Slaughter and May showed us process improvement opportunities. Especially when it comes to repetitive work streams and tasks, technology can help quite a lot.
That was our first “a-ha!” moment. The second one came once we looked into the consumer-facing contracting applications available on the market at the time. We decided to apply their philosophy regarding design and UX and transpose it to the corporate law world with our product.
“Our user-centric design principles have paid dividends so far, so we are keeping a tight course there. Likewise, our platform enables increased focus on the higher-level advisory legal or commercial work, which yields value for law firms and their clients alike. Freeing up lawyers’ time is a win-win, and that is our goal - to attain that synergistic value.” - David Howorth
Q: How does Avvoka optimize the whole contracting process?
DH: In short, Avvoka is an online-based document automation platform. It involves end-to-end document automation (as in - everything from automated first drafts to online document collaboration, negotiation, e-signature, and data analytics).
We wanted to put control of document automation back into the hands of the people who know their documents best. We feel every person that writes legal documents should have automation within their skillset. It may sound basic, but most tools don't go as far as to facilitate that.
On the other hand, we do simple and intuitive document automation too. However, we do not compromise on power or sophistication - Avvoka can handle almost anything document automation-related that you'd need.
But the expertise only gets you so far
Q: So you’ve run into the problem while practicing law and assumed it was worth solving in a broader sense. How did you validate that assumption?
DH: In addition to our own lived experience, we also spoke to our colleagues from the legal field.
We started with the hypothesis that there wasn't a good enough solution out there encompassing document automation, collaboration, negotiation, or analytics. Talking with our peers and proto users was undoubtedly a great reality check.
"We're guilty of a certain degree of naivety and over-optimism back in the day, however. We didn't realize the size of the mountain we'd taken on until we were well underway. Likewise, we weren't fully aware of all of the legacy solutions that were available either."
However, this is our superpower - we attacked the problem from a different perspective. We’ve put design and client experience first, and our development is product-driven.
Q: How did you define your primary target audience?
DH: We work with everyone who has a contractual or documentary process that could be made more efficient!
Our clients' portfolio comprises regular business teams, in-house legal teams, and private practice law firms. Additionally, we are seeing more customers approaching us to power their core business proposition. That is mainly the case with fintech and insuretech companies (who are so successful in the UK and Europe more broadly).
However, we also help with any proposition where people are looking to bring traditionally manual or offline marketplaces online.
Our clients love our fresh perspective and approach to solutions.
Innovation without impact is just noise
Q: Speaking of innovation - how do you ensure the design you implement is impactful and doesn't end up shelved (e.g., a product or feature)?
DH: By frequently talking to our clients and ex-colleagues! This approach resulted in us adding concrete product features to our toolset.
We work very hard to understand the exact pain point our clients are feeling. Instead of just immediately placing a button where they had asked, we try to understand what is deficient in the current solution. Also, how can we improve it? At times, adding that button might help, but other times we can include something that skips that entire (part of the) process and makes it 10x better.
Q: How do you see legal tech nowadays? And what about the business of law? How did those concepts change over time?
DH: In essence, we feel that legaltech has always been a part of the conversation around the business of law.
If you think about it, email and tools like practical law are legaltech and are core to what lawyers do. They just weren't called 'legaltech' at the time - they were just bits of technology law firms used.
We think that the aim for document automation should ultimately be to be seen as an essential tool for lawyers (e.g., like eDiscovery is quickly becoming). Rather than viewed as something alien or even just 'legaltech,' why not integrate it into everyday legal practice (like email or online precedent libraries), for example?
There is a danger that 'buzzwords' put people off using something, but even Microsoft Word was probably considered 'legaltech' at one point.
Q: From your seat, do you see legal service productization as a relevant trend?
DH: Yes - absolutely, and we expect to see far more of this. It seems like law firms are moving away from developing tech in-house but are still looking to marry their knowledge and expertise with technology to provide some incredibly forward-thinking legal services.
Q: (How) does document automation tie in with productizing legal services? Do you have any examples from your business?
DH: Document automation is probably the perfect tool to be having a conversation about productizing legal services. Right now, lawyers charge for their advice, and often their product is a document. We see more and more firms interested in pairing legal advice with automation and starting to offer this on a subscription basis. The rest of the world is moving towards subscriptions, so why not law?
Q: Any reading suggestions for those that would like to sharpen their entrepreneurial mind?
DH: Favourite podcasts (perhaps all the busy person has time for, in addition to blogs) include: Vergecast, a16z, Recode Decode, Techmeme Ride Home, Masters of Scale, Twenty Minute VC, StrictlyVC, Angel, CB Insights & Y Combinator.
The cost of doing nothing
Q: (getting a bit personal) What drove/is driving you into this venture? Was anything wrong with merely stacking billable hours?
DH: It's exhilarating to be involved in trying to help change the way an industry operates, and in a way that will benefit both service providers and consumers.
As above - we started Avvoka to allow lawyers and business people to delegate their most repetitive tasks to its platform document automation. Technology frees up their time to do more of the high-level advisory technical, legal, or commercial work that they are great and enjoy most. Automation makes life more pleasant for everyone. There are numerous creative ways private practice firms can adapt their business models to maintain profitability and unlock new revenue streams.
There is a cost to doing nothing.
Law firms will start to lose their competitive advantage, and business clients will become disappointed with pricing and quality (not to mention the staff morale and churn).
In-house legal teams will see the quality of their work falter and their workloads pile ever higher. Times aren't getting any easier, compliance isn't getting any less complex, and we always have to produce increasing outputs with restricted resources. Something has to give.
Q: So where do you think this all leads? The legal industry matured, but now it seems to be at the cusp of reinvention?
DH: With the impact of COVID-19 and how it's shaken up our ways of working, we are at the precipice of a great deal of change and legal tech innovation related to the provision of legal services.
People are using more technology in their working lives than they ever have done before - look at what has happened in the e-signature market. Virtually overnight, everyone has adopted something they might have used years ago. By osmosis, the mentality that technology really can help will surely start to spread to other areas of the legaltech landscape.
Q: Any further plans? What is coming next for you personally and Avvoka?
DH: Certainly, our overarching aim is to be the automation and negotiation tool of choice in the legal industry. We work to be pinned on every lawyer's chrome browser.
But even more than that, we want people to think of automation as a skill. When they start a matter, the first thought of every lawyer should be - "Wait, can we make this more efficient through Avvoka?" It is one of our end-goals.
But getting a bit more near-term and pragmatic - we are looking forward to our upcoming new version of our software, with an even more powerful engine (on the product side).
Speaking of channels, we welcome more partnerships and integrations (with great tech products) using our API. One such example is combining various AI review tools with Avvoka's document automation capability.
Finally, our team has also grown (we've added six team members recently!). Although we were aware you could lead people remotely, the pandemic has made that even more evident.
We're optimistic - COVID-19 has changed the way people look at digital tools and efficiency.
Ivan Rasic holds the Transnational Trade Law and Finance LLM, a program by Universidad de Deusto (Bilbao, ES), Universiteit van Tilburg (Tilburg, NL), and Goethe Universität (Frankfurt, DE). After his work in law firms and inhouse, he started a legal tech company.
Nowadays, Ivan leads STP Informationstechnologie AG's Sofia RnD center with project/development management, culture, strategy, and special project initiatives.
Ivan is an Ambassador at European Legal Tech Association (ELTA). He closely follows and writes on future of law, legal tech, ALSPs, and new ways of delivering legal services.
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